PARIS (AP) — Novak Djokovic looked imperious in beating an overawed Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-4 Sunday to win his fifth Paris Masters final, clinching a 34th overall Masters title in fine style to move one behind record holder Rafael Nadal.
At 32 years old, Djokovic has already won 77 titles in a stellar career and fully intends to add many more.
“I don’t take them for granted like it’s something normal or usual or common. I’ve been blessed to win so many big titles in my life,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m still playing professional tennis, to fight for these big trophies and to still be able to play the highest level.”
Shapovalov was mostly outclassed, even though he was physically fresh having avoided a potentially grueling semifinal because the second-ranked Nadal pulled out beforehand with an abdominal strain.
Still, the odds were heavily stacked against the 20-year-old Canadian, who was appearing in his first Masters final.
“I put him under pressure for the second serve and from the back of the court I was solid, not giving him too many opportunities,” said Djokovic, who felt unwell with a sore throat earlier in the week. “I feel like the second part of the week was terrific, it was improving day by day in terms of my level.”
Djokovic never appeared troubled on his way to a fifth ATP title this year — level best with Dominic Thiem.
He served out the match with a love hold, hitting a forehand winner before turning to look at his box and raising his arms in triumph.
“It was my best serving performance of the tournament,” Djokovic said. “Denis maybe lost his focus a bit.”
Shapovalov entered the match with only one career title — a modest ATP 250-level tournament in Stockholm last month — and having lost his three previous encounters against a 16-time Grand Slam winner considered among the all-time greats of tennis.
The big-serving left hander looked tense, making three unforced errors in his first service game and slipping quickly to 3-0 down against a composed Djokovic playing in his 50th Masters final and 111th overall. After botching a return on Djokovic’s opening serve of the seventh game he whacked his racket into the ground in frustration.
Dropping only four points on his serve in the first set, Djokovic clinched it with another dominant serving game which included two aces and concluded with a volleyed winner at the net.
“It was tough for me to find a groove just because he was really picking his spots on the serve,” Shapovalov said. “He just places it well, it’s tough to read.”
As Shapovalov’s unforced errors resurfaced in the seventh game, Djokovic broke him again for a 4-3 lead.
Djokovic saved his first break point of the match at 30-40 in the next game when Shapovalov returned a sliced serve well wide.
With that, the briefest glimmer of hope was gone.
“I’m sure the best things are yet to come for you,” Djokovic said to Shapovalov during the trophy ceremony.
Kind words, yet the gap to Djokovic’s level remains huge.
“It’s great to hear that, but I still have a long way to go,” Shapovalov said. “I want to be beating guys like Novak so I have to improve, find a way to return better.”
Djokovic has won every final he’s played at Bercy Arena except for last year’s against Karen Khachanov, which came after a three-hour semifinal slugfest against 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.
This year, Djokovic did not drop a set and heads to the upcoming ATP Finals in London looking to secure the year-ending No. 1 ranking for a sixth time. That would move him two ahead of Nadal, one ahead of Federer and Jimmy Connors, and into a tie with record-holder Pete Sampras.
Nadal is also in strong contention to finish the year as No. 1 but it remains uncertain whether the Spaniard can play at the ATP Finals, which start Nov. 10.
“I’m sad to see that he’s injured because that’s not what you want to see. I know how that feels,” said Djokovic, who struggled nearly two years with an elbow injury. “Historically he’s had several injuries at the last part of the season, so I hope he can recover. Because without him, obviously the battle for No. 1, but also the tournament itself, is different.”
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